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The Organ of St Bartholomew’s Orford
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 (?) [9:11]
Nicolas de GRIGNY (1672-1703)
Hymnus: Veni Creator Spiritus (c.1699) [14:32]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Organ Concerto No.13 in F (1739) (arr. Marcel DUPRÉ (1886-1971) [13:01]
Andante with Variations in D (c.1844) [5:02]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Prelude and Fugue in G minor (1857) [7:52]
Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Chorale Preludes (Set 2) (1915): Martyrdom' [3:22]; 'Hanover' [4:51]; Eventide [3:43]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria (1946) [5:26]
Dan LOCKLAIR (b.1949)
The peace may be exchanged (1988) [3:02]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Toccata and Fugue in D op.59, Notebook 1, nos 5-6 (1901) [8:36]
Catherine Ennis (organ)
rec. 24-26 February 2020, St Bartholomew’s, Orford
PRIORY PRCD1235 [78:38]

This recital gets off to a great start with J.S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565. I guess that this is entry level for many organ enthusiasts. Whether first heard at church, in a cathedral or as part of Walt Disney’s iconic Fantasia, featuring the work in an orchestral transcription starring Mickey Mouse and Leopold Stokowski, it is totally memorable.  Most aspiring organists will have had a go at this piece. I was able to play the Toccata (after a fashion) and about a third of the fugue. Fortunately, Catherine Ennis has got to grips with the entire work, which is given a rip-roaring performance. The liner notes remind us that the T&F is regarded by some musicologists as being spurious. Who cares? This warhorse retains its dignity and power. Apparently, Felix Mendelssohn wrote that he ‘let loose’ on this piece in 1830 at the start of the Bach Revival. Listeners will be glad that the work has survived the last 190 years.

Nicolas de Grigny’s compositional reputation was made by his Première livre d’orgue which was published in Paris (c.1699). It included a complete Mass, a Pièce du premier ton and five ‘hymns’ and has remained one of the definitive collections of French Baroque organ music. Grigny’s music was known to Bach, who copied out this album for his own study. The Hymnus: Veni Creator Spiritus is presented in five sections of versets which are designed to be played alternatively with singing of the plainchant. This is provided on this CD by the Gentlemen of Orford Church Choir. The organ part includes an ‘overture’, a fugue in five parts, a lively ‘Duo’ or ‘Gigue’, a highly ornamented ‘Récit de cromorne’ and concluding with a ‘Dialogue sur les Grand Jeux’.  The entire Hymnus is replete with complex counterpoint, intricate embellishments, and vivid textures.

It is great to hear this splendid recital of Handel’s Organ Concerto No.12 in F. It is nicknamed ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’ because of certain obvious musical conceits heard throughout the piece. Handel devised these Concerti to be used as ‘entr’actes’ played during performances of his oratorios - as if they were not already long enough! Originally devised for organ and orchestra, this Concerto was arranged for solo organ by the French composer, Marcel Dupré.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Andante with Variations in D (c.1844) was originally intended for inclusion in one of his Sonatas for Organ. However, the composer rejected it for this purpose.  It is quite simply charming, with nothing to disturb the peace and tranquillity.

The Prelude and Fugue in G minor by Johannes Brahms is new to me. It is an early work written when the composer was in his mid-twenties (1857). The liner notes explain that Brahms’ idea was to improve his ‘compositional technique.’ The impact of Bach and Buxtehude is clear, but what is special about this piece is the ‘rhapsodic writing’ which seems more appropriate to the piano than the organ.

I have always enjoyed Hubert Parry’s two sets of Six Chorale Preludes for organ.  It is no criticism to state that these were conceived in the style of J.S. Bach’s many examples.  The three contrasting items played here are based on the quiet, reflective hymn tunes ‘Martyrdom’, the powerful fantasia-like reimagining of ‘Hanover’ and the Oh so Anglican Evensong favourite, ‘Eventide.’ They are convincingly played here by Catherine Ennis.

Benjamin Britten published only a single work for organ: The Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria. It was written in 1946 for a recital at St Matthew's Church, Northampton and first performed there on 21 September 1946, their patronal day. It has never appealed to me; it is difficult to put my finger on why not. Timothy Bond writing in the Musical Times suggested that the work ‘moves through passages that are "serene", "creepy", "vigorous", "nostalgic”, and finally "serene" again, albeit with a "rather pedestrian" cadence.’ This is a good summing up.   It is given a fine performance here, which should encourage me to reappraise my thoughts about this work. Enthusiasts of Benjamin Britten will recall that his Three Church Parables and Noyes Fludde were given their first performance at St Bartholomew’s.

One of the treats on this album is American composers Dan Locklair’s ‘The peace may be exchanged.’ Presented as an ‘aria’ for organ, it features a solo stop supported by strings, creating a numinous and reflective mood. The work was heard at the funeral of President Ronald Reagan and the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

The recital concludes with another warhorse, although Max Reger’s Toccata and Fugue in D op.59 might not be as well-known as the one that opens the recital. Reger, always one for exploring the ‘traditional’ abstract forms, wrote many Preludes, Fugues, Chorale Preludes and Variations for the organ. Reger is often dismissed as being boring and pedantic. On the other hand, his music can be regarded as being in a trajectory from Bach, by way of Beethoven and Brahms and finally scooping up the chromatic harmonies of Wagner and Liszt. Thereby providing a consummation of German baroque, classical and Romantic aesthetics.

The Toccata here nods towards the Bach (BWV 565), but the fugue is a masterpiece of ‘slow-burn’ music which builds up into a powerful climax featuring the Zimbelstern (a toy organ stop, giving a tinkling sound). It is a great finish.

The three-manual organ in St. Bartholomew's Church, was built by Peter Collins and originally installed in the Turner Sims Hall in Southampton. It was relocated St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford, where it was extensively restored by Cousans Organs Ltd and inaugurated on Easter Sunday 2019. This is the first commercial recording on this fine instrument.

The performance of this music is excellent, as is the sound quality. The liner notes by Graeme Kay are helpful. They include comments of each piece, a personal reflection on the church and the instrument (Catherine Ennis), a history of the organ (Paul Hale), as well as the all-important specification. Dates of some of the works (where known) are unfortunately omitted. There is a biographical note about the organist. No ‘total timing’ of the CD is given, but it is a healthy nearly 80 minutes.

This is a well-constructed programme, featuring music that is a step away from the pedestrian repertoire. Naturally, the Bach is ubiquitous, but the other pieces are well worth hearing.  I made a couple of discoveries here, including the Brahms and the Locklair. The Reger was also a highlight. I certainly hope to hear further releases from Catherine Ennis and/or the organ at St Bartholomew’s Church Orford.

John France

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